House Minority Leader Todd Hiett’s criticism of the state’s workers’ compensation system last week was misdirected, a veteran state senator charged Tuesday.
Senator Ben Robinson, D-Muskogee, said Hiett completely missed the point of the Work Loss Data Institute’s report card which gave Oklahoma and six other states a grade of “F.”
“The report didn’t deal with the workers’ compensation court system at all, but rather with the success states have in preventing injuries and when injuries occur, the success rate in getting workers healthy again and returning them to work,” Robinson said.
“It truly is an embarrassment that workplace injuries are so prevalent in Oklahoma that our state gets an ‘F’ in this category, but that grade has nothing do with the workers’ compensation court system. If Hiett wants to be critical of someone in state government as a result of this report he should turn his attention to Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau.”
Reneau’s Labor Department oversees Oklahoma’s workplace safety programs, which have little to brag about.
“The Occupational Safety Health Administration, which provided the data used by Work Loss Data for its report cards, indicates that in 2001, Oklahoma ranked No. 8 in the nation in the rate of workplace fatalities. And as the Work Loss Data report indicates, the first factor that drives up workers’ compensation costs is the number and severity of injuries,” Robinson said.
Robinson pointed out that a number of lawmakers have attempted to include workplace safety in the workers’ compensation reform debate over the last several years, but have always run into resistance from the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce.
“Business bears some responsibility for the cost of the workers’ compensation system. Preventing workplace injuries is the absolute best way to bring down the costs of compensating injured workers,” Robinson said.
The Muskogee Democrat said Hiett immediately focused his criticism on the system that seeks to justly compensate injured workers.
“He completely ignored the real problem cited by the report – that there are too many workplace injuries in Oklahoma and that Oklahoma businesses and the Oklahoma Department of Labor aren’t doing enough to prevent them,” Robinson said.
“The report makes it obvious that any effort to reduce the costs of workers’ compensation in Oklahoma has to start by improving workplace safety.”